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Wednesday, 28 May 2003
Page: 15304

Mr ADAMS (11:32 AM) —The Murray-Darling Basin Amendment Bill 2002 is put forward to amend the Murray-Darling Basin Act 1993 and to give effect to an agreement between the Commonwealth, New South Wales and Victoria on the new arrangements for sharing water in this catchment. It removes references to the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority that is in the Snowy Mountains agreement that looks at increasing water flows in New South Wales and Victoria.

This amendment is supported by the federal Labor Party and also by the participating state governments, but it does not go far enough. We really need to find funds to pump into saving the river now. If we do not, then Adelaide is going to continue to be short of drinking water and there will be other environmental issues concerned with that state's river systems. We have to start now to develop a national water policy to ensure that there is an adequate and sustainable supply of water in rural and regional Australia. We need to be able to predict weather patterns much better than we do now, and we need to try and make use of natural events to store water for times when the supply of water is short. First of all, we certainly need to help the Murray River.

I am a member of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, which is undertaking an inquiry into water in Australia, especially regional water. One of the issues that we have come across that needs to be addressed is the need to break away from having committees and groups right through to premiers and prime ministers looking at the Murray-Darling Basin. We have to somehow get some honest brokers and break down the situation whereby the people who sit on these things either represent the states that they come from or the Commonwealth position. As I said, I think we need to get some honest brokers.

I do not know whether we could get a group of people from Tasmania, Western Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory to be independent of those who are looking after their own interests. That might be too much to hope for. Tasmanians, of course, always play that honest broker role. We need to pick people with good credentials, good expertise and no vested interests in anything other than finding solutions to this problem of the Murray-Darling Basin so that we can move forward. There is so much science now available. A lot of very good people have put a lot of work into this area, and we should be moving much further forward than we have in the last two years. I would think that we are two or three years behind where we probably should have been in some of the decisions in this area.

The inquiry I am working on is seeking a lot of information in relation to understanding water evaporation and new sources of water. One of those, of course, is the reuse of some of the grey water in Australia. We do not seem to do that very well, whereas other parts of the world do. In Queensland the Brisbane City Council has to spend, I think, $200 million to meet new environmental standards for grey water that they put into Moreton Bay. I am sure you would understand that, Mr Deputy Speaker Lindsay.

There is a nation building plan to take that water back to the Lockyer Valley and even over the tops of the ranges to the Darling Downs to put water back into those two areas. This will of course cost a lot more than $200 million, and we really need the federal government to stand up and start to be counted in this sort of nation building. The farmers in the Lockyer Valley have told me that they are quite willing to pay fair and reasonable prices for this sort of water. There are great opportunities like this to do something major—a way of doing things differently in Australia.

Aquifers pose a special problem, and they have not received much attention until recently. The Salisbury City Council in South Australia are being innovative in the way they use the city's underwater storage of grey water. They pull out that water and recycle it into their parks, gardens and sporting ovals when they need it. They find that any pathogens that might be in that water are dead within a couple of days of going underground. So very interesting and innovative work is going on in the City of Salisbury, and I congratulate the city council for taking those opportunities.

Through state legislation in Australia we do not allow any recycled water to re-enter rivers or creeks. This may be the right way to go or it may be something we need to revisit and put modern thinking into. Many countries reuse grey water to grow vegetables and fruits in places where water is at a premium, and this is the lifeblood of many small farmers in other parts of the world. In Australia, on the other hand, we are very extravagant users of water. In my state of Tasmania, in particular, we are so used to having water freely at our disposal that we have tended to be pretty wasteful in the past, but we are starting to work on that. Most areas now have meters for home usage, except some of the bigger cities in the south which still need to tackle that problem.

Bringing farmers up to best practice and using water more efficiently is not as easy as we might think it is. I have been told by several people that, with the methods used in irrigation today, some of that water runs back into the rivers through the water table, underground rivers and other ways. By improving the delivery system to slow drip or modern technologies such as modified pivot systems, we will be putting less water back into the rivers, not more.

Therefore, although the farmers are being more efficient, there needs to be a way of decreasing each farmer's allocation of water without detriment and using the saved water to increase the environmental flows. Then no-one loses: the farmers have to pay less for water and the river benefits from the additional water. But this is not an easy concept to sell. The farmers have been worried that any changes to water supply will affect their ability to farm. However, providing their needs are dealt with and they are assisted to improve their irrigation methods, everybody should be able to gain from this.

Change is always difficult. We should be looking at the way we have restructured other industries. The restructuring of rural industries in the use of water needs to be dealt with as a new model or concept. I think there is some work being done in that area. When we are dealing with environmental equations, we must factor in the social effects they may have, particularly on families who live in the rural and regional areas. We do not want to depopulate inland Australia. There are several things to achieve. One is to move farming back from the river and to use the best soils in the most productive areas, while reducing farming and irrigation in some of the less productive areas with less arable soils.

People thought that the market for water might achieve some of these things, but this is much harder to achieve than many people thought some years ago. I believe that it is going to be very difficult to do that because of the way we move water and the ageing infrastructures that are in place. A lot of the old infrastructure in Australia needs to be renewed. Pratt industries have put up the idea of piping water and moving away from the old canal system, which may help, but there needs to be much more flesh on the bones of Mr Pratt's ideas so we can see what is being proposed.

We are going to face many changes in the way we farm in Australia. One example comes from my electorate. I am told there is a farmer growing feed using two double garages. He waters seeds of oats and barley and when they get a green shoot, after several days, he uses that to feed a number of deer which run on a very small acreage. He uses that feed on a continuous basis to maintain his deer and to fatten them for the market—using a very small acreage, but a whole new concept. Australia will need to face up to those changes in the future.

The use of grey water has been demonstrated in my electorate. In 1995 I was fortunate to take Prime Minister Keating to the Pittwater Golf Course, which is in southern Tasmania, not far from the Hobart airport, where an economic solution was put forward regarding the problems of cleaning up the blooms in the Pittwater lagoon and the lack of water to irrigate the golf course. The algae was blooming and dying, causing a terrible smell for the residents of the suburb, and the golf club was losing members because of this. It was tragic. The blooming problem was caused because the area was a very shallow lagoon and water from a sewerage plant put a high level of nutrients into it. By allowing more water to flow into the lagoon through the tidal flow and removing the grey water from the sewerage works into collecting ponds and then diverting that water out to other ponds which were going to be used by the golf course, it was possible to supply the golf course and local farmers with very much needed nutrient rich water.

I have been following this issue for some time and I am pleased that this outcome has been so successful. The Orielton lagoon is a Ramsar site, and this was declared during the time when I was state minister for national parks in Tasmania. Things do not happen in a hurry, and sometimes environmental thoughts on these things go back to the late 1970s and early 1980s. I am very pleased to have played a part in maybe solving a problem and setting up something for the long term. The golf club uses this water. It sprays it of a night because golfers pick up and handle their balls and therefore if there was a lot of water about they may pick up something from that. The club has taken that into consideration when using the water. This has certainly improved things enormously. The golf course has become a lot greener with a lot more fairway trees and shrubs. Membership is growing now, and it has been a great opportunity and a great thing to happen there.

In relation to some of the farmers, only recently I took some South Sea Island politicians to show them reuse of this grey water in the area. A farmer I have known for 30 years is now using this water for seed production. We still have issues in Australia whereby we do not use this water straight onto a vegetable crop; there are consumer issues that might come out of that. But a lot of seed for cauliflower, cabbage and many other vegetable crops is grown in my electorate. By drip-feeding this water in an apricot orchard onto the base of the trees, they put it straight into the root system and it does not touch the fruit itself. Those things are working very well and it is a win-win situation for everybody.

The next project using grey water is likely to come from the Hobart scheme, where very soon water will be flowing into the next valley, the Cole River Valley, which takes in the township of Richmond, which is a beautiful tourist town on the outskirts of Hobart in my electorate. It will increase the ability to have further production in that beautiful valley, especially seed production.

We have another project on the drawing board at the moment which is also extremely important, and that is the Meander Dam. That is also in my electorate. We are doing a lot with water around Tasmania. Today in Parliament House the state government minister and members are meeting to put forward the economic and environmental case for the establishment of that dam. This project will enable another valley in Tasmania to maximise the use of water while ensuring that environmental flows are maintained—and increased in this case, if anything, when the river is most under pressure. The project has been on the drawing board for over 70 years. I met a woman who is 85 and her brother who is 79, and the brother left school as a nine-year-old and was going to get a job building this particular dam. I hope that during the next 12 months this dam will come into play, some 70 years later.

It has been on the drawing board for 70 years and it is only now that people are beginning to understand the worth of such a project, both environmentally and economically. Knowing the amount of water that you have to deal with is half the battle. Indeed, Tasmanians are learning the hard way that water is not infinite and that actions have to take place to ensure that water is available for the future. It does not matter where you are in Australia, water is important, and Tasmania is no exception to that. We are beginning to value our water more and to understand what it means to other states too. The Murray-Darling has become an icon for the issue of water restoration, and we want to assist in getting it back to health.

This amendment bill does little to really improve the water situation in the Murray-Darling, as it does not follow up with a whole strategy for water issues in the nation. If you add to it some restructuring in the agriculture industry and providing funds for research and incentives to help farmers make much needed adjustments to their farming practices and to help restructure some communities, then we can start. We really have to start now, and we have pledged that a future Labor government would provide the funds to get on with the job. I know we are not there at the moment, but work that is being undertaken—like that of the House parliamentary committee—will be useful in helping all parties develop sensible policies while opening up avenues to possible research.

While I support the bill, it really does not touch the problem. Hopefully this government can revise its direction once the report of the committee that I am sitting on is finalised. I hope that it will take some notice of the findings and recommendations in that report and maybe move forward. The Labor Party have established our policy with Riverbank and a pledge of $150 million. This country really needs some vision and a national approach from the Howard government, but I am of the opinion that we will probably need a future Labor government to really make things happen.